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Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree Jr

July 15, 2014

hersmokeHer Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree Jr (1990)
Review by Chris White

Now, I’ve done a bit of research, and apparently when you review a collection of short stories you have to review each individual story – I’m not going to do that. And it’s not only because I’m lazy – I actually don’t want to ruin any of these beautiful stories for you. You should buy this book, I’m not joking.

James Tiptree Jr was probably one of the best science fiction authors to have ever written. Why am I tagging a bloke called James Tiptree Jr in my year of reading women? Because James Tiptree Jr was actually Alice Sheldon, an intelligence agent for both the USAF and the CIA, who wrote as Tiptree to protect her professional career.

“It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.” – Robert Silverberg

Tiptree’s work collected here deals with sex, and violence, and arousal, and death. From the tragic xenophobic xenophile of ‘And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side’ to the story that has haunted me since childhood – although I forgot the name of the author, I always remembered ‘Houston, Houston, Do You Read?’ to the sad, haunting victory of ‘With Delicate Mad Hands’. Yes, James Tiptree Jr was a master of titles.

I cannot recommend this collection highly enough, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a beautiful, moving exploration of humanity and of real science fiction – our humanity is exposed through our non-humanity, to each other and to the aliens that we conquer and subjugate in her stories. The cold hostility of humanity toward the conquered in ‘We Who Stole the Dream’ and to one another in ‘The Screwfly Solution’ are breath-taking, as is the beauty found in ‘Slow Music’.

What a beautiful collection. Equal parts terrifying, beautiful and tragic. Glorious science fiction.

“Passing in any crowd are secret people whose hidden response to beauty is the desire to tear it into bleeding meat.”

This review originally appeared on Chris White Writes.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2014 12:43 pm

    “who wrote as Tiptree to protect her professional career” — I’m under the impression that there’s more to it than that although initially might have been the case. People uncovered that she was a woman long after there quite a few women in SF (i.e. the 70s). The name took on way more than simple a pseudonym. It was strangely freeing — etc. I recommend reading her autobiography if you have the time.

    • July 15, 2014 12:44 pm

      I’m sorry, her biography…. The Double Life of Alice Sheldon.

    • July 15, 2014 1:30 pm

      I’ve read the biography – it’s excellent.

      • July 15, 2014 1:46 pm

        So, do you agree that there’s more to James Tiptree, Jr. prolonged use of her alias than simply the pressures she faced as a woman in SF (which obviously were there, especially at the beginning of her career)?

        • November 15, 2015 3:15 pm

          …well it was also the fact that she wanted a ‘throw away’ name for submissions she didn’t think would get any where. And, like you say, freeing. I believe she found it hard to maintain Tiptree’s ‘voice’ after she was ‘outed’.

  2. July 15, 2014 7:55 pm

    A great collection and my first exposure toTiptree Jr./Sheldon- standouts for me personally are Houston, Houston, Do you Read?, The Screwfly Solution, and the incredible Love is the Plan the Plan is Death!

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